Visualisation – A key training tool discussed…

In previous posts, there have been numerous mentions about visualisation – the very important tool, that we can use as a catalyst for replicating a performance. This post looks at our most common visualisation ‘types’ and how they can assist us in our overall preparation to perform.

Lets be honest, to be a true champion in any sport, we need to replicate a peak performance time after time. This is where visualisation comes to the fore. Most people have a fairly poor understanding of visualisation, or they apply the skill inconsistently, and therefore don’t benefit from it as much as they perhaps might.

The worst case scenario is that as an athlete, we don’t visualise at all. If we don’t visualise, then chances are, we don’t really have any understanding of the benefits of ‘why’ we would do it in the first place. Visualisation is used to create a neurological pathway, or blueprint, so that when we take to the green to compete and perform, we have a familiar pattern to follow, and we know what is expected of us, what to look for in our performance. By visualising, seeing ourselves out there ‘doing it’, we create a familiarity and with that, our feelings of anxiousness are reduced. There should be no surprises – we can start our performance from a steady, resilient platform. Visualisation gives us ownership of our performance – if we don’t have ownership, can we truly give something the determination and effort it deserves?

Taking ownership of a positive, or peak performance, gives us something we can be proud of. If we are proud of it, we are more likely to go out and replicate that performance – the emotional ‘buy in’ is key. Being able to visualise effectively allows us to train a skill time after time without becoming mentally or physically fatigued – if we had to go out and train a forehand drive shot 100 times, we would be exhausted – if we go out and train a drive shot 10 times perfectly, and then use our visualisation of that training, not only do we get the benefit of the actual training, we get the ongoing benefit of drawing on our subconscious to recreate that perfect training as we move forward, without the associated physical and mental fatigue. We have all heard the phrase ‘Practice makes Perfect’. Implementing visualisation into our training helps in moving toward – ‘Perfect Practice makes Perfect’. Being able to visualise enables us to be more productive, precise and able to create that perfect neurological blueprint for use in our future performances.

The traditional coaching attitude leans towards ‘getting out there and doing it’. Of course there is great merit to this approach, however, we can train smarter by enlisting visualisation. Science and research has shown us that if we do something over and over again, we become fatigued – mentally and physically. Imagine if what we are doing over and over is not precise enough…not only do we become mentally and physically fatigued, we become emotionally despondent that no matter how many times we do it, it just isn’t happening. We do not want this negative blueprint being at the forefront of our memory and sticking out as our ‘go to’ on game day! Visualisation is the smart way of embedding that positive, perfect practice into our brain – the one we do want to ‘go to’ on game day!

When we undertake our visualisation process, it’s important to understand that there are different types of visualisation we can apply. Most commonly, athletes employ a one dimensional view – “I see myself through my own eyes doing something”. Visualsation has multiple techniques, and is important for athletes (and coaches of course) to understand that there are different types that we can apply to different situations, as we meet them.

The most understood, and commonly used would be disassociated visualisation – you are standing away, seeing yourself on the green delivering a specific shot or shots. This type of visualisation creates a non emotional situation, focusing only on the mechanics and technique – The Process – Taking note that “If I do it that way, this is the consequence and outcome. If I do it slightly differently, I get a different set of outcomes”.

The opposite to the disassociated process is the associated visualisation, and this gives us the emotional buy in, where not only do we see ourselves, we can also hear, and feel what we would at the venue – we are trying to stimulate all of our senses, firstly seeing everything we would with our own eyes – the bowl leaving our hand smoothly and on line, the gentle arc of the bowl turning towards the head, and finally resting up against the jack, at the end of the rink. we can then hear the response from our supporters or our team mates, acknowledging a great bowl…¬† Building this emotional connection within our visualisation has a significant impact on how our memory retains and categorises these events – we want to create a very positive feel to this blueprint – we want to create the neurological pathway that we draw on to re-create and replicate. The other senses we have are smell and touch – with touch – pick up a bowl and feel its weight as you work through your visualisation process.

As humans, we naturally like to follow order and sequence and rhythm. When something has a pattern, we become attracted and more easily adopt it. When we use our visualisation skills, the matching of a rhythm or a set mantra in our minds, helps create a familiarity that allows us to quickly focus into our processes – our perfect mental practices. Transferring our rhythm or mantra to our processes when we compete enables us to follow our pattern of performance, under the stress of that competition.

All our work on visualisation, using the methods as above is to try and create that perfect blueprint, the blueprint that we can call on leading into competition, and during competition, to help get us back on track. To that end, it is important that we practice our visualisation when we are in the ‘right space’. There is no point trying to work through a visualisation process if we are stressed from a bad day, or disappointed¬† that we have had a bad training session, or just plain over tired. We need to have clear thought processes and be 100 percent focused on what we are trying to achieve.

We need to understand that as humans, our brains follow patterns…good, bad and ugly. That’s why it is so important to ensure our visualisation processes are specific and focused on our perfect practice, for whatever the skill is we are working on. We want to replicate a quality process, not something that will ‘just do’. If we start accepting in our visualisation processes a less than perfect process, we are doing ourselves a dis-service – we want to make sure that we are aiming for the best, and understanding that if we settle for something less than perfect, in the back of our mind, we are changing the emotional perception of that skill set. It is not what we want, it’s not what we ‘know’ but if we accept it, we are losing the emotional buy in. We want the optimal performance and optimal buy in for ll the right reasons – win the competition, qualify at the top of our section, etc. With our buy in comes the sense of urgency to perform, and our process becomes the recognisable ‘go to’ when we are under duress in competition.

So now we have trained in our visualisation skills, imprinting our very best – perfect, performance in the forefront of our brain, we must be able to draw on it’s benefits appropriately. The use of key ‘triggers’ is an important part of the visualisation training skills. The trigger helps us ‘fire’ the key visualisation that we require, when we need it – key words, key phrases or even locations and sounds. Adding a phrase to our perfected blueprint, creating a link to that performance, allows us to use that key to fire that performance each time.

The positive benefits of visualisation include allowing us to manage very specific key requirements within our brain, and also manage those very specific emotional requirements, allowing us to perform from a stable, ‘practiced’ platform, and enhance ability to take control of our performance.

So, there you have it…Visualisation is a massive part of any athletes training…do we give it the necessary time and effort?